Judge holds firm on Prop 12, restricts pork producer pockets

Federal judge denies injunction on Prop 12 that hurts out-of-state pork producers’ bottom line

SACRAMENTO – Out of state pork producers doing business in California will have to make some changes after losing a court battle last month.

A federal district court in San Diego ruled against the National Pork Producers and American Farm Bureau who were asking for an injunction against the 2018 initiative, Proposition 12, passed by California voters. Prop. 12 requires farmers to give more space to hog, hens and calves.

The law, “requires that a sow cannot be confined in such a way that it cannot lie down, stand up, fully extend its limbs, or turn around without touching the side of its stall or another animal.”

The producers from the Midwest and South said the measure created a “substantial burden” on interstate commerce if they want to keep selling their products in California since they have to comply with the regulations. The April 27 court ruling disagreed and said the law did not violate the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.

The measure has already impacted egg and poultry producers as well as calve operations in the Central Valley who have long ago accepted the new law. Not so much for out-of-state producers involved in this challenge.

Beginning Dec. 31, 2021, Proposition 12 will require each sow whose offspring is intended to be sold into California be allotted at least 24 square feet in the group pen. Court papers say that Proposition 12 will have an immediate impact on what producers must do now given the time needed for building and production changes. Plaintiffs allege these requirements are, “inconsistent with industry practice and standards, generations of producer experience, scientific research, and standards set by other states.”

Court documents add that the, “Plaintiffs also allege these requirements impose costly mandates on producers that interfere with commerce among the states and impose costs on pork producers that will ultimately increase costs for American consumers.”

According to the judge in this case, California has an estimated 8,000 breeding sows, and 1,500 of them are used in commercial breeding which produces around 30,000 offspring.

But California’s in-state sow breeding does not supply the demand of pork consumption in the state. The plaintiffs argue that, “the offspring of approximately 673,000 sows is required to satisfy California consumers’ demand for pork meat annually.”

The Pork Producers claim that by imposing these requirements on an industry that is national in scope, Proposition 12 unconstitutionally interferes with the functioning of a $26 billion a year interstate industry.

But the court reasoned that the measure did not treat out of state producers any differently from in-state. The court cited a case that  challenged a ban on the sale of products produced by force feeding birds. Because the statute precluded sales of products produced by force feeding birds within California regardless of where the force feeding occurred, the statute did not directly target out-of-state entities a previous court has ruled.

Likewise with Proposition 12 that applies to California producers just the same as out-of-state producers, concluded the court. The measure applies to egg producers as well as calves and hog producers.

The court in this case did not think the profitability issue was convincing either.

“Although Proposition 12’s regulations may burden pork producers and result in a less efficient mode of operation, there is no burden on interstate commerce merely because it is less profitable than a preferred method of operation,” court documents stated.

The plaintiffs can still appeal the ruling but time is running short to do an extensive remodel of facilities and the California standard is rapidly being adopted by national food service players, restaurant chains and other states.

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